If I were a TV evangelist…

Sometimes you’re looking for something that illustrates the use of a particular grammatical structure—maybe something like a conditional structure If I were a dinosaur or If I were younger, something like that… And sometimes you might be pulling your hair out trying to come up with an interesting way to illustrate said structure. Such is the lot of an English teacher! But sometimes, social media sites can come to the rescue. Search for the string if I were on Twitter and you will be presented with a lot of real time examples of people using the phrase. [DISCLAIMER – obviously it being social media, there is no control over this, and you may see language and content that offends you] You can do the same on Vine and something interesting happens. Rather than simply getting examples the phrase you’re searching for, you will also probably come across videos where people have interpreted the second half of those conditionals and recorded a video showing what they would do! This can give us an interesting context to look at Vine videos, discuss their scripting and editing.

 If I were…

Level Pre-intermediate +
Type of student Teenagers, Young adults, Adults
Language Second conditional, Speculating
Skills Speaking


  • Ask your students if they believe in magic. If you feel this activity will get your students producing a fair amount of language, get them to discuss their ideas in pairs or small groups before conducting whole class feedback.
  • Feed back on any language that your students use. This might include adjectives to describe magic (e.g. impossible, unbelievable, supernatural, mysterious, fake, etc.), phrases to give their opinions (e.g. I really do believe in it, No, it’s impossible, I don’t agree with you, etc.), and maybe vocabulary relating to magic (e.g. witches, wizards, magic powers, magic trick, magician, conjurer, etc.)

Video stage

  • Tell your students that magic is real and they are going to watch a video that proves this. Be as convincing as you can.
  • Play this Vine video and ask your students to work out how the magic trick is done:
  • After your students have watched the video and (hopefully) agreed that it is not actually magic, you can admit that it is not actually real magic. It’s actually a magic trick.
  • Ask your students to watch the video closely to spot where the trick is made.
  • Answer: it is in fact a very clever cut when the Viner, Alan Chapman, moves his hand over the dead plant and seems to make it appear fully grown and healthy ‘by magic’. What he has done is to film one shot with a dead plant, and another with a live plant, then cutting the two together to make it seem like the same shot (you can explain this to your students in their first language if you speak it).
  • Ask your students the following questions:
    • How long do they think it took to plan?
    • What different elements does Alan need to film the sequence? Possible answers: two plants, a tripod for his phone, a second cameraman, music, a script.
    • What elements disguise the cut—making it appear to be one shot? Possible answers: distracting music, Alan addressing the camera and his ‘evangelist voice’, the sudden and quick movement of his hands.

Main stage

  • After watching the video a few times and discussing its composition, ask your students if they can remember what Alan said in the video. Answer: If I was a TV evangelist… You’re healed!
    • NOTE – Although Alan says ‘If I was…’, the more formal ‘correct’ version of the structure is ‘If I were…’, as it supposedly includes the element of modality in the structure. That being said, both forms, was and were, are perfectly acceptable, and was is much more common in everyday speech.
  • Explain that this is a kind of religious preaching that is done via the medium of television. It is particularly prevalent in the USA, and often features tales of people being miraculously ‘healed’ of various conditions (e.g. blindness, paralysis, other sicknesses). This are, as you might expect, fairly dubious in their authenticity.
  • Draw your students’ attention to the phrase If I were a … Ask them what they would do if they had Alan’s ‘ability’ (imagining that the video is real, ask them to suspend their disbelief for a moment!)
  • Change the phrase to words relating to magic, e.g. If I were a magician … You can also introduce other forms for this part, e.g. If I could do magic …
  • Ask your students to work in small groups to complete the phrase. Give them about 10 to 15 minutes to come up with some ideas.
  • Conduct whole class feedback, getting students to write their ideas on the board. You can then vote for the most interesting idea.
  • Use this opportunity to highlight any correct use of the verb form If + past simple, + subject + would + 2nd verb
  • If necessary you can use the examples to teach this structure to your students.

Follow up

  • Search for other Vines that feature some If I were  subject
  • Find other ‘Vine magic’ videos. Alan Chapman often posts videos of this kind. Some are even more seamless than this one.
  • Film your own magic videos (a tutorial on this will be coming soon).

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